Growing up in soggy Southeast Texas, Joe Penland saw firsthand what a struggle the oil and gas industry faces moving heavy equipment through the perennial muck that covers much of the low-lying countryside.
An ironworker by trade, the young Penland watched as gangs of 30 and 40 workers struggled to lay a plank road or drilling pad, tossing timbers onto the ground and lining them up. It was hard, dangerous, time-consuming work.
There had to be a better way
As it turns out, there was a much better way. And Penland, with an investment of just more than $2,000 and working in his mother’s back yard, figured it out.
“I came up with the idea of doing something prefabricated in a shop instead of out in the weather,” Penland recounted. By manufacturing mats built to different specifications and for various applications in a factory and then moving them to where they were needed, “You could increase productivity, you could increase safety on the job, everything would be recoverable; and, as the good Lord was behind us, and with my mother praying every day, it turned out to be the right thing.”
Penland patented his concept and now fabricates more than 250,000 mats a year in his facility inside the Beaumont city limits. He markets them worldwide, and he leases them to companies such as TransCanada, which used Quality Mat products during construction of our Gulf Coast Pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas.
Penland didn’t start out with much in life. In 1957, at what should have been the height of his earning capacity, Penland’s father was disabled and never worked another day in his life.
“We really had nothing. We didn’t have a telephone. We certainly didn’t have a television,” Penland recalls. “My mother was bringing in other people’s laundry. We were in extreme hardship financially. We got toys at Christmas. People would bring us food. We got clothes from the church.”
Glad to have help from strangers, Penland was still stung by the situation. “It was a little embarrassing at the time, but it set something off in me. I realized there’s good people in this world willing to help somebody they don’t even know, just for the reason of helping. And I knew then that if I ever got to where I could, I was going to give something back every day.”
Penland has been better than his word
“When Quality Mat makes a dollar in profit, 30 to 33 cents goes back into the community,” much of it in women’s health programs, he says. “That’s something TransCanada and all my customers can feel good about. TransCanada — without TransCanada knowing — has already funded several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of free mammograms, free prostate checks, getting people through some local institutions here, navigating them through surgery, navigating them through treatments and extending some people’s lives.”
Part of Penland’s devotion to early screening for cancer is that both he and his wife, Linda, are cancer survivors. “Linda, through a routine mammogram, was diagnosed with cancer. Just by her having a routine check and early detection, that made a difference in her being here or not being here,” he said.
Penland is quick to point out that his tradition of giving back to the community is built into his business model. “I’m not able to build in a markup and then give that margin to charity. We have to be competitive,” he says.
Penland has enjoyed his relationship with TransCanada. “I have to tell you, TransCanada is the kind of company we like to partner with. We know TransCanada wants to have an impact in the community too, and your relationship with Quality Mat is a good way for your presence to be felt in the Beaumont area for a long time to come,” he concluded.
TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Pipeline project is more than 95 per cent complete and is expected to begin service by the end of 2013. The $2.3-billion project has employed more than 4,800 American workers and involved contracts with more than 50 U.S. manufacturers and suppliers in states incuding Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.